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In Southern Sudan, New Nation Begins 'From Scratch'

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Earlier this week, officials in Southern Sudan announced the preliminary tally for January’s referendum on splitting Africa’s largest country in two. The results: an avalanche.

Nearly 99 percent voted to secede from the north. In July, Southern Sudan will become the world’s newest nation.

Now comes the hard part: building a new state after decades of war.

Road To Progress

The southern Sudanese, with huge help from the United States and many other countries, are trying.

Southern Sudan has about 25 miles of paved roads in an area nearly the size of Texas. By the end of this year, it should have its first paved highway to Uganda. The project is financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development and will cost American taxpayers $200 million over five years.

“Southern Sudan, because of the decades of war, has so little infrastructure,” explains Bill Hammink, who overseas USAID in Sudan. “They are really starting construction here, starting from scratch in many ways.”

Hammink says the new road will cut the costs of imports from Uganda, on which Southern Sudan depends, and boost trade. That’s critical for an economy facing high prices, high unemployment and almost complete dependency on oil.

The goal of the United States and other donors is to prevent the failure of another state in Africa.

“We all know in Sudan during the civil war, 2 million people died, 5 million people at least became refugees,” says Ambassador Barrie Walkley, U.S. consul general in Juba, Southern Sudan’s capital. “We don’t want to see anything like that happening again.”

So far, truckers are delighted with the American-financed road. Abdullahi Hussein has just driven tires and spare machinery parts up from the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

“We used to take two days because of rough roads and whatever. Now it just takes one day from the border to here,” says Hussein, sitting on a straw mat by the side of the road, carving red onions with a knife and tossing them into a pot of rice.

Hussein says the problem these days isn’t the road surface, but the cops who work along it, demanding nearly $100 in bribes each trip.

“The corruption is so much,” he says as he prepares to bed down next to his truck for the night.

Tracking Public Money

Like many places emerging from war, Southern Sudan doesn’t have the institutions to fight graft or properly manage public money. However, inside the government, some people are working to change that.

Central Equatoria is one of Southern Sudan’s 10 states and home to Juba. During a budget meeting of the state legislative assembly, James Juma Peter, who monitors public funds, ticks off a long list of problems with state finances.

“Domestic and foreign travel budgets are too high,” he booms into a microphone. “The budget for fuel and lubricants is too exorbitant.” Then, he points to “dishonesty and corruption among the state staff and revenue authority.”

The United Nations Development Program is trying to help Central Equatoria manage its budget. The U.N. has hired Clara Kenyana to teach budgeting in the state’s Finance Ministry. Kenyana, a statistician from Uganda, says decades of war have left many government workers without the basics.

“Most of the staff is not computer literate,” says Kenyana. She says when she arrived, no one knew how to set up a spreadsheet. Now, she says, 10 people can do it.

Jacob Aligo, state minister of finance in Central Equatoria, says another problem is lack of accountability. For instance, he doesn’t know for sure where public money goes.

“Once money leaves the ministry, there is no feedback,” Aligo says. In fact, Aligo acknowledges that departments do not submit receipts to show how they actually spent the money. He says a new management system spearheaded by the United Nations will require all departments to account for their spending.

Teaching The Next Generation

Across town at Catholic University of Sudan, teachers are trying to mold the next generation of business and government leaders. The school — really just a handful of classrooms in a small courtyard — is three years old and one of the few of its kind in the south.

Simon Tongun Kasmiro, a junior studying business and economics, says many government officials are former guerrilla fighters with little education.

“Most people in the government are coming from the bush and most of them were never in school,” says Kasmiro, 27. “So I study economics [to] remedy the situation, because the economy is not managed well.”

When he graduates next year, Kasmiro says, he plans to become an economic adviser to his new homeland and change all that. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

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